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Elijah went up to the top of Carmel and bowed himself down upon the earth…  And he said to his servant: Go up now, look toward the sea…seven times…  And at the seventh time he said: Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.
- Cf. 1 Kings 18:41-45

 

Elijah and the Little Cloud: 

From the beginnings of Christian monasticism, monks have looked to the solitary prophet Elijah as a model; but in the Middle Ages, the Carmelites, in virtue of their dwelling on the mount hallowed by his presence, came to understand Elijah as the very origin and inspiration of their way of life.  During their years on Mt. Carmel, they lived in his shadow and tried to assimilate his virtues, and in later years, they expressed in literature their unique relationship to the prophet of Mt. Carmel.   In these stories, what may seem to modern, empirical sensibilities to be a flight of medieval imagination is in reality a concrete expression of a spiritual truth.

The most inspiring of the Elijan stories which explains the Order’s devotion to the great prophet is the legendary vision of Elijah and the little cloud:  After his defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah perceives a small cloud rising from the sea (1 Kgs 18:41-45).  In the cloud he sees the figure of the Immaculate Virgin, conceived without sin, who would one day give birth to the Savior of the world.  Upon seeing the vision, Elijah is inspired to make a vow of perpetual virginity, and thus begins monastic life.

This account reflected the Carmelites’ lived experience of Elijah as spiritual father and origin of their way of life.  Carmelites today can still look to the vision as an expression of the truth of the Order’s undying devotion to Elijah as father and Mary as patroness.  Elijah’s zeal for the living God burns in their hearts as, like him, in contemplation they gaze enraptured at the beauty of the Most Pure Virgin, Splendor of Carmel and Sweet Guardian of their own zeal and purity of heart.

Next Month:  The Legend of Sobac’s Dream